Study Guide

Ode on a Grecian Urn Sex

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Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, (line 1)

"Ravished" can mean "stunned" or "bowled over," but it can also mean, more bluntly, "raped or violated by force." There’s a hint of irony in this opening line; it’s hard to imagine our mellow friend Mr. Quietness "ravishing" anyone.

What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? (lines 8-10)

These questions can be misleading, but we can piece the general story together: a bunch of the guys are chasing the gals through the woods. This isn’t a tender, intimate scene; it’s practically a sex party. Keats isn’t just throwing this in here to be racy. The classical civilizations of Ancient Greece and Rome really were quite sexually adventurous, and scenes like this one were not infrequent. The Greeks like to cut loose on occasion and experience moments of "wild ecstasy."

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! (lines 17-20)

"Thy bliss" seems a fairly clear reference to sexual bliss. The male lover hasn’t hooked up with the maiden yet, which the speaker thinks is a good thing. They don’t have to worry about the awkward period "after" they do the deed, and he’ll never have to watch his love get old and wrinkly with age (and vice-versa). The couple will always be at their height of their attraction for one another.

More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young; (lines 25-27)

You might notice that the speaker starts getting really excited and repetitive in the stanza that also happens to be the steamiest. Coincidence? We think not. These lines provide some justification for treating the references to "love" as sexual in nature. Words and phrases like, "warm," "panting," and "still to be enjoy’d" show that he’s not talking about a chaste, Platonic love.

All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. (lines 28-30)

Love hurts. This is the ugly side of sex and love, the one that leaves you feeling sad and oppressed ("cloy’d") by thoughts of the object of your affection. But the people on the urn don’t need to deal with this downside. The guys on the urn don’t have to worry about whether or not their desires will be satisfied, because they can remain in the same state forever. But in the real world, someone longing for love could end up feeling like a person who is dying of thirst in the desert.

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